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Overseas university spotlight: The University of Sydney (Australia)

Students looking for a 'Harry Potter' study experience in old, historical buildings sometimes overlook Australia as a destination for education.

But The University of Sydney actually predates the establishment of Australia as a country.

Founded in 1850 (half a century before Australia's six colonies were joined), USyd is the oldest university in Australia.

Its buildings are reminiscent of those at Oxford and Cambridge and are constructed primarily from sandstone (hence it being a member of the sandstone universities group).

But the two principles guiding its foundation were religious tolerance and the admission of students on academic merit, both new ways of thinking in that time.

Here are some of the highlights from my visit to Sydney in October 2022!

Historic buildings at the University of Sydney

Sydney, Australia

Regularly crowned winner of the "Most Instagramable City in the World," Sydney is one of the world's most attractive places for international students.

And it's not hard to see why!

I studied a Master of Education in Sydney years ago, and my experience of the city was overwhelmingly positive; I adored the laid back Australian lifestyle and particularly Sydney's famous coffee/brekkie culture.

The city's food and music scenes are diverse and accessible, and its people are welcoming and friendly.

With warm weather, stunning coastlines and a diverse natural environment, the Sydney area is also a dream for the outdoor adventurist.

And it's not just surfing and swimming; the city offers so many opportunities to 'get out there' and soak up its beauty.

Gordon's Bay, in Sydney
My favorite little hideaway spot, Gordon's Bay
The view from Sydney Harbour bridge

Some of those ways include climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge itself!

Despite the height, it wasn't really that scary!

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Boats on the quay in Sydney

But as great as it is to visit the splendid centre of Sydney, it's also important to remember that it's a city of neighborhoods; locals don't tend to hang out in the downtown central business district (where the Opera House is located) outside of work hours.

The city's suburbs are vibrant and thriving community hubs, including the Inner West, where USyd's campus is located (Camperdown specifically).

In fact, one of my favorite coffee shops in the whole world is in the Inner West, just a few blocks from campus - Deus Cafe.

Sydney's famous coffee
Amazing coffee. Amazing food. Cool environment. Deus Cafe.

It's an easy bus ride straight into the centre though; you can expect one every few minutes almost (and the main train station is also super close).


In addition to being one of the sandstone universities, The University of Sydney is also part of the Group of 8, which is the Ivy League equivalent in Australia.

It's research-focused but has always had a strong social agenda as well, being one of the first to educate both women and the indigenous population.

Interestingly, no other institution has educated a higher number of Australian Prime Ministers either.

A total of eight PMs, from across the political spectrum, have studied at USyd.

And as one staff member put it, "The roughest contact sport on campus is not rugby; it's the politics degree."

Historically, the first disciplines offered at USyd, however, were law, arts and medicine.

University of Sydney School of Law
USyd's new law school building, which opened in 2009
The Medical School at University of Sydney
School of Medicine
Interior of the Medical School, University of Sydney
Inside the School of Medicine
Exterior of the Medical School, University of Sydney
School of Medicine courtyard
The coutyard at Sydney's Medical school
School of Medicine courtyard

Students studying medicine also benefit from having the largest hospital in Sydney right on campus, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

And just next door is the Charles Perkins Centre, a multidisciplinary research centre, clinic and education hub that primarily focuses on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

The Charles Perkins Centre at University of Sydney
Charles Perkoins Precinct at University of Sydney

Following those three initial subjects taught at Sydney in the 1850s, veterinary medicine and agriculture began shortly after, as the economy at the time was based on wool and wheat.

Nowadays, Sydney has both a 4-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) for college graduates and a 6-year pathway for students from high school via a combined Bachelor of Veterinary Biology/DVM (both of which are highly competitive).

The Vet School is right on campus and includes a clinical teaching hospital, though the final year is taught at Camden, where students work directly with livestock and gain experience with the large-animal industries of sheep, dairy, pigs, cattle and aquaculture.


With 70,000 students, USyd is another example of a large university outside the U.S. that actually feels smaller in scale.

This is because many Australian students do indeed live at home, but it's by no means a 'commuter campus' in the same sense.

University of Sydney's famous Great Hall
Great Hall
The Great Hall at the University of Sydney
Great Hall
View from the University of Sydney Quad
Inside the Quad
Lawn at the University of Sydney quad
Inside the Quad
The magnificent Quad at University of Sydney
Inside the Quad

From the main, original building and Quad, you can see straight into the city centre.

The only building interrupting a complete view of the Sydney skyline is the Chau Chak Wing Museum for natural history, art and antiquities, which is free and open to the public.

It's also an excellent resource for firsthand research utilized by staff and students alike.

View of Sydney skyline from the University
Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney
Inside the museum

The main 'pedestrian highway' through the centre of campus is called Eastern Avenue, as it used to actually be a road.

The main highway through University of Sydney campus, Eastern Avenue
Eastern Avenue

For those that like to play sports or just sit in the grass and soak up the Aussie sun, there are also 'heaps' of sporting fields, ovals and green space.

University of Sydney campus
Sports faciltiies at University of Sydney
Soccer pitches and cloudy skies in Sydney
This almost looks more like the UK than Australia!
Sports pitches at University of Sydney
Sports facilities on the Sydney campus
University of Sydney's Physics building
Physics Building
Buildings on the University of Sydney campus


I always recommend that students live on campus for at least the first year, and at USyd your options include university residences or residential colleges.

The university residences, such as The Regiment below, are always self-catered, meaning you'd have to cook for yourself.

They offer more of an independent lifestyle but are close to campus and convenient.

University of Sydney student housing
The Regiment

Residential colleges are best for someone wanting to be part of a close-knit community, have a strong support network and also have the dining hall experience (up to three meals a day).

Formal college dinners take place regularly (Harry Potter-esque), featuring alumni and guest speakers, and there's even a rivalry between the colleges themselves.

Inter-college games, or ‘InterCol’, involve four annual cups for students who love music, theatre, sports or visual arts.

Each college has its own personality (St Andrew's tends to be the sporty one), and there are also two dedicated postgraduate colleges.

The University of Sydney's Wesley College
Wesley College
The University of Sydney's Women's College
The Women's College
Main entrance, St. Andrew's College, University of Sydney
Entryway of St Andrew's College

Most are located close to King Street, which is where you'll find loads of restaurants with food from all over (I ate at a Thai place), as well as Campos Coffee (supposedly the best coffee near campus - so of course I had to try it).

Coffee shop near the University of Sydney campus

University of Sydney - Summary

If you couldn't tell, The University of Sydney is actually one of my favorite unis--not only for the Harry Potter experience but because of everything else it offers and represents.

It has beautiful buildings, an amazing location close to tons of restaurants and cafes and the Sydney city centre, active residential life programs and plenty of green space.

More importantly, it has always had a strong social focus based on principles of inclusion, admitting students regardless of religion, gender or race well before other universities had even considered doing so.

And it just so happens to be one of the world's leading universities, too.

The  University of Sydney
My friend and colleague who works at USyd, Priya
Sydney Harbour
Thank you, beautiful Sydney!


Interested in applying for college or grad school abroad?

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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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